Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bring On the Empty Orchestras


Though the word karaoke (literally "empty orchestra") is Japanese, and a drummer named Daisuke Inoue is generally credited with its invention, it was a Filipino who patented a machine which he called Minus One, which Filipino musical performers carried with them throughout Asia. Although the Japanese disputed it, Roberto Del Rosario was granted a patent for his karaoke machine in 1983. So, when the first time machine is invented and we are at last allowed to travel back in time, remember that it is Mr. Rosario, and not Inoue, who should be shot in the cradle.

Until that eventuality, karaoke will remain immensely popular here in the Philippines. For Filipinos, the object of karaoke is not to sing well, although they enjoy good singing as much as anyone else. Once anyone gets his hands on a microphone and performs the usual sound test by saying "hello hello", the object of karaoke is to sing one's heart out. If it often sounds like screaming to an unaccustomed listener, it is only because of all the force of pent-up emotion, electrically amplified to several decibels above eardrum-splitting, that has no other outlet.

And so, what you hear when a Filipino picks up the microphone is a week's - or a lifetime's - worth of forbearance, unexpressed feelings, and swallowed replies, all coming out in the words and approximated music of some platitudinous popular song. The singer might not hit a single note squarely, but if his heart is in his throat, as it will be when the tuba or Red Horse or ginebra kicks in, you will not hear as much passion in La Scala, the Paris Opera and The Met rolled into one overloaded karaoke player.

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